Just the other night I got off the phone with one of our karate Mums telling us about some major bullying that her kids have been going through at school since the start of the year.  They’ve had it all – name calling, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse.  They’ve spoken to teachers, they’ve spoken to the principal and the stance that the school has taken, is “Unless we witness the incident, we cannot do anything!”  And of course the bullies in question are not silly enough to do it right in front of a teacher.

They’ve done all the things the the anit-bullying programs teach them:  They have walked away, they’ve said to the bully “STOP, I don’t like it!” They’ve told the teachers and the principal, but the problem continues.  Even though they have not been the ones causing the problem and they have done everything in their power that they can think of to improve the situation they have been still called in for numerous meetings with teachers and the principal of the school, while the bullies have been chastised but are still free to continue with delivering more of the same.

So, what’s the next step?

Bullying is complex problem and it’s not going to be easily fixed because there are so many parties involved and a solution will only last if ALL parties play out their role.  The bullies need to be held accountable for their actions, the teachers need to act (not just listen), the “victims” need to stop doing the things that make them “victims”, the parents of the victims need to stand by their children, and make sure that everyone else remains accountable for their actions, the parents of the bullies need to look in the mirror and ask the tough question whether or not their own behaviour is being mirrored by their bully child and do something to correct it.

Only when EVERYONE plays there part is there truly a long term solution.  At least until the next bully comes onto the scene.

Towards the end of quite a long and emotional charged phone call with our Karate Mum I made a suggestion.  It was a suggestion that I don’t think she was expecting, but one that was certainly received with gratitude.

When the dust had settled a little after the phone call I thought I would share the scenario on our facebook page and see what other solutions our members and other parents might come up with.  I was astonished by the number of people who came out of the woodwork to offer an opinion.  Probably much like me the situation had stirred up past situations from their own childhood bullying incidents.

I had grown up with martial arts starting my training not long after I started school, but throughout my primary school years I was a victim of bullying.  In my training I had been taught that karate is for self-defence.  At school I was taught that it’s not good to get in fights.  At home my parents told me “you must not start the fight, but if you get caught up in it, you should be the one to finish the fight.”

In the end for me, the solution was a little bit of all of them.

The first line of defence is best summed up by a quote I heard only for the first time about a year or so ago….

“Don’t be where the punches are!”

Think of it this way.  You’re walking down the street to the shops and you know that along the way there is a really scary dog, the size of a small horse, with teeth like razors, that likes to try to eat people who pass by.  Knowing this, you have the choice:  walk past the dog and hope that it’s already full from the small children that passed by earlier, or cross the street before you get anywhere near the dog and avoid the situation altogether.  I know what I’d do!

The second line of defence: Be confident.  Stand tall, look the bully in the eye, don’t back down, and speak and a loud, clear voice.

At Sunshine Coast Karate, from your very first lesson, you will start to develop 3 of the most important self-defence lessons you will ever learn.  These lessons form the very foundation of what it takes to grow your confidence in any situation.

  1. The power of good posture.  When you stand up straight you can breathe in deeply, think with more clarity and it just makes you feel good.
  2. You learn how to focus.  Starting off by focusing you eyes, then your body and then your mind.  When all 3 elements of focus are aligned and working together you are ready to tackle anything that comes up.
  3. You learn how to “Kiai”.  Simply put, a kiai is a point in time when your whole spirit is united with your body usually with a loud and focused yell.  When done properly a kiai allows you to find strength within that you didn’t know was there.

The third line of defence:  Ask for help from those in a position of authority who are able to do something about the problem.  In the case of school yard bullies, this is normally the teacher on duty.  When bullying gets past the first 2 lines of defence it is left up to those who have a have a duty of care to protect and teach those who are being bullied.

And this brings us to the position where we found our Karate Mum.  All of the first 3 lines of defence had failed and she was reaching out for help.  But before I get to the suggestion that I gave, I need to share with you what I have learned about bullies over the years.

  1. Bullies are cowards
  2. Bullies are insecure
  3. Bullies feed off the fear of their victims
  4. Bullies love the entertainment value when they get an emotional response from their victims
  5. Bullies run in packs
  6. Bullies love it when other people buy into their taunting
  7. Bullies don’t want to get caught in the act

When you understand the psychology of the bully the solution is often quite simple.  Not easy, but definitely simple.

In the case of our Karate Mum, the suggestion I offered was not unlike the final solution that had served me well about 25 years ago.  A simple 3 step solution.

Step 1:  She needed to talk to the children and explain that they need to defend themselves and fight back next time they are bullied.  At this point the children will try to explain (and they did) that they will get into trouble because everyone has been telling them the exact opposite for so long.  And in response, this is the time to say something like “No, you MUST fight back, it’s not OK for you to be a victim, it’s not OK for you to be bullied, and it’s not OK for your teachers to do nothing about it and let it happen.  If you’re teachers will do nothing about it, then you have to defend yourself.”

Step 2: I as their Karate teacher also arranged a time to catch up with the boys and share exactly the same lesson in the dojo.  They needed to hear from someone in authority, other than their parents that if all else fails they have to defend themselves.  So I went through all the steps: ignore the problem if you can and walk away, tell the bully you don’t like what they are doing, ask for help from the teacher…. Then if that fails (or if things are escalated by the bully), defend yourself and fight back.

Step 3:  I suggested to our Karate Mum to once again speak to the principle and explain that “The bullying of my children that has been going on for the last 8 months has not been resolved by you.  Now I have been left with no choice and I have told my children that they need to fight back and defend themselves.  Because you are not doing your job, I have given them permission to take matters into their own hands.  And the next time they are bullied, and it will happen again because you have shown that you are not willing to do anything, they will FINISH the fight.  Don’t worry, I’ve been very clear, they will not start the fight, but they will finish it!  And they will not get in trouble for doing so because it has only come to this because of YOU!”

Of course this is only a short term fix to the immediate problem.  And it is not the solution I would suggest to all people.  I only know that it is a viable solution because I have worked with these children for some time and I can see that they have grown in confidence and strength of character that they can deal with it in this way.

Bullying is a BIG problem.  And when you look at the problem as a whole, there is no simple solution but a little bit of accountability goes a long way.